RE: The Great Migration – How Many Are Leaving The Hobby?

Dan Bearss put up an article on BoLS yesterday called The Great Migration – How Many Are Leaving The Hobby? It’s a short article where he talks about what people have said to him regarding them leaving 40K for other game systems. Now, I’m not one to discredit someone’s opinion. If you feel a certain way about something then that’s how you feel, period. However, I think there’s more to it.

Time Required to Play a Game

One of the common themes that was mentioned is the time required to play the game. It’s safe to say that 40K is not a game you throw down in 30 minutes. The thing is, it never has been. Games of 40K are far shorter now than they were in the early editions. I remember when Kamui and Darkheart would play 40K when we were in high school and it would take them an entire weekend or more to complete a game. The table would be left setup for when they could resume and hope to complete the game. I’d say the fact you can knock out a game in a few hours now is a vast improvement!

My point, however, is not how long it takes to play the game but why you play the game. I see a game of 40K as an experience and not a game. I spend countless hours building models and painting them, which I thoroughly enjoy, and a game of 40K is my chance to showcase my hard work. I get to put down my little men and for a few hours to create a story and forgot the real world. My reward is seeing the game, the world, come to life for a little while as I step inside it and get lost, so what does a few hours matter?

The game of Warhammer 40K has a depth with its fluff and history that few games can come close to matching. People like to complain about the cost of the rule books but how many other tabletop miniature games give you 200+ pages of story to go with your rules, or the 50+ pages of back-story for your army? It’s meant to be an experience, each and every game.

That being said, if life has deemed you don’t’ have hours to commit to playing a game of 40K then what can you do but find a game you enjoy which plays faster? One can’t argue with life!

Broken/Unbalanced Rules

Another mention was made about the rules, how they are always broken and GW is chasing its tail to fix issues and in turn creating new ones. Pretty much everything I said above about 40K being an experience and not just a game is applicable here. Just because things are not in perfect sync and balance does not mean it’s not fun to play. Having fun playing a game does not require perfect balance and a flawless ruleset. If you’re looking at 40K as a game for competitive play then you should reconsider. There are better games for a competitive environment. If you want a game to play that has thematic rules and unfolds into some amazing moments that you’ll tell your friends about for years to come then 40K is the right game.

In other articles here I have also talked about this in terms of finding the right people to play. If you’re a more casual player and are playing against competitive players then it’s not going to be the experience you want. As with any game, you need to find like-minded people to play the game with. When you find other players who share you views then issues within the game itself disappear and you get to just enjoy the experience.

The Cost

Lastly, money was mentioned and that it’s prohibitively expensive to stay up with the game. Almost all my armies are cobbled together off eBay and buying stuff off friends. I buy new kits to fill in the gaps but the bulk of my army is bought cheap. I admit the game is not cheap to get into if you’re buying new and that buy-in can be a deterrent to new players. However, once you’ve established your army there’s few little you need to do. Every few years you need a new codex, a rulebook, but that’s it. You don’t have to own every unit in a codex and have every possible variation of everything. New units are released occasionally, and now we have dataslates, formations, etc., but you do not need to own everything. I honestly spend maybe $200 a year on 40K. I’d call that damn cheap for any hobby, not just wargaming.


I love 40K but I’m by no means an ignorant fanboy. I also have issues with GW and the game but I feel the game gets crapped on a lot for the wrong reasons though. Most of what I hear isn’t really about the game but ultimately that the game just isn’t for those people and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m not a fan of Raggea music, never have been, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible music, it’s just not for me.

  • Nafnaf

    Amen brother, well said! If you went by the majority of the internet, 40k is a terrible game that nobody enjoys, and gw hates us all. Yes the game has flaws, and gw is not a perfect company, but you are right in that the game is dependant on you and your opponent ‘forging a narrative’ and getti g over the rules bumps along the way. Have a conversation before you play each other and work out something that is fun for ypu to play.

    I think TO’s are going in the right direction with comp ect, as some elements of the game are not playable in a tourney setting (nor is 40k designed that way) and that is the way it should be, if the parent company is unresponsive to their customers, then we should take action and change the game, instead of the endless raging and whining that goes on. It really puts off new players and does create a poor atmosphere around this great, immersive hobby of ours.

    I have found that branching out into other game systems (infinity, x wing, dreadball ect) has actually helped me to enjoy 40k more and appreciate its benefits. No other game offers me that same immersion in the fluff, or the amazing customization and converting opportunities that 40k offers, and i love it for it. When I get a bit 40k jaded then I play a different game for a while, or paint a different mini, and go back to 40k when I am good and ready. Have fun everyone, its a game :)

    • Thank you.

      40K is a fully immersive game and if you aren’t willing to immerse yourself then don’t blame the game.

  • BenitoSenence

    Great subject Thor but I’m one of those who’s leaf changed. Much like me leaving Sony for Xbox I don’t hate 40k. I do enjoy it! I have 4 armies that I love to play but what comes to is branching out for those newer players and time.
    First the starter set. It’s not a good start for what you need to play. Most other starter sets give both players a solid base for an army build.
    Second is cost. I do have a lot of stuff for each army. But the new stuff has been upward of $50 for units. Then a codex with additional rules just to field what I have. My last to armies had split rules so I need about $100 to obtain those rules. Other companies you mostly buy only the rule book or a army book that is for all armies.
    Third the rules are just cumbersome with tables of stuff I forget we rolled for or forgot to roll. Mysterious terrain, objectives, perils, warp Storms etc.
    I know you and many here love 40k, sorry. I want to stay in love with it myself. I was playing since 2nd edition and collected almost every army at one time. I have helped many of my friends into it, but that being said it isn’t financially possible now. Convincing them to start new is even more daunting. Maybe we blame Kickstarter for all the games being made or Games Workshop because they underappreciated us. But time and money is a real draw for a hobby and as we lose each taking what you little you have has to be applied for the best situation for everyone.
    I hope the new head of GW realize there is a competitive market and we see them make things affordable and accessible because you are right. Some of the best fluff out there, these guys inspired Starcraft. Keep up with the articles! Great subject!

    • No need to apologize. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me any more than I expect to agree with everyone else. What I enjoy is discussion so I like seeing all views.

  • Umbram

    The premise of the article is fairly ridiculous: I talked with a few people that switched from 40k to another game because the other game was more to their tastes, therefore it is reasonable to question whether everyone will abandon 40k. To explore their complaints, I played a game of 40k at 100,000 points and it took much longer than it takes to play a small skirmish game.

    That said, not all of the article’s criticisms of 40k are without merit. My thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt, as I’m fairly inexperienced with the game. I have found 40k to be a great game to play with a friend, but I’m having a hard time deciding whether I am interested in it as a pickup game. If I am going to play a game with a stranger, I’d rather have tight, unambiguous rules. I’m not sure that I want to have to rely on my opponent to not have brought a list that’s too cheesy or wonder if they think that my list is too cheesy. Confidence that the game itself provides even footing and sufficient structure for two people to play obviates the need for strangers to be expected to adhere to some sort of bizarre unstated social contract to not try to win too hard but also not bring a list so weak that it won’t be fun to play against. The bottom line is that 40k could be immersive and flexible enough that you can recreate an epic battle in a beer and pretzels game but also have a sound enough foundation to foster structured play without some of the current drawbacks. One can forge a narrative in a well written rule set easier than in a poorly written one. I think there’s some merit to the argument that given the cost of the hobby, tighter rules and balance should be expected.

    • Very true. As I said, I have some issues as well but the constant whining I hear gets to me.

      As for pickup games, I agree and well said. To that end though that’s why I go to play routinely. I know all the regulars and so there’s no odd posturing about the game. I guess I really don’t see them as pickup games at this point.

      • Umbram

        Good point.

  • Warren Falconer

    This article on bols seemed like click bait to me. To be fair though the cost has certainly deterred me from buying much of anything, but thats across all hobby avenues not just 40k. I still find that I have more fun playing 40k than video games. I also find that dollar for dollar I get more for my money with 40k. I can spend hours painting a model or a squad. As you say you get out of it what you put in.

    Enjoyed your rebuttal as I found the source article to be lacking.

    • Thanks.

      I completely agree about value. I’ve played so many PC games over the years and while they were fun, ultimately I have nothing to show for it. I spend $50 on a box of dudes and, like you said, there’s hours of fun hobby time there plus all the gaming time I get from it.

  • eriochrome

    So what you are saying here is that 40K is slow playing with unbalanced rules and is expensive enough that you expend extra time to go to search the secondary market for it. It has always been that way and If you do not like that than you do not like 40K, and need to find a different game

    What they were saying is that 40K is slow playing with unbalanced rules and expensive enough to deter further investment of time or money so they found a different game.

    Seriously though, people have always been flowing in and out of 40K. The was not a problem for GW back when they had other games to move people to when they got tired of 40K but they abandoned those so now.people try more other publishers. Then they might not come back.

    Personally the first one is not a care for me, but the second two are certainly hit home for me.

    • I deserve that as what I said can be read that way. I don’t mean to say they are wrong and to defend with the old, “It’s always been that way,” phrase either. Hopefully the points I tried to make offset that a bit.

      Removing specialist games was a very stupid move for GW no doubt about it. I read your blog and have heard what you’ve had to say on the subject and I agree. I keep hoping that there was some grand plan they had in mind when they removed those games but the more time passes the less I think that’s the case.

      • eriochrome

        I think the issue to consider is really that addressing these three concerns would not hurt your love of the game and models and would only help broaden the player base up.

        The time to play is probably more related to the points deflation as more and more models hit the table top in a standard 1500-2000 point game. You can play a lower point game but that generally makes balance issues even worse. The progressive points deflation as been intentional so they could have been more careful with that in the past and going forward.

        The rules and balance issues could also be worked on. The rules of 40K have never been tight but they certainly could be improved. Attempts at balance were just thrown out the window in 6th and 7th edition with allies and the now anything you want. Before there was the core game and then various expansions but now the expansions have all been shoved into the core game. GW certainly did not take a if it is not broken don’t fix it approach the recent rules revisions.

        On cost, while my associations with GW games go way back, I think we both started playing 40K about the same time in the mid aughts. The starter set then was like 45 dollars. Sure it had less models but it also had terrain. Next starter set was 60 dollars which has the essentially the same model count as the current one at 110. Codexes were 20 dollars now they are 50-60. Single metal figures were like 8 now for the last space marine release they are like 30 for monopose plastic. Metal Zoans were probably 12-15 and now they are 3 for 66 in plastic. While the quality of some of the things have gone up and if you are going to spend hours and hours lovingly modeling and painting your figures 65 dollars for a rhino sized tank with a turret might seem fine to you, some people are just looking for something to protect them from flyers when they play a game with plastic toys.

        GW cannot prosper (even if they imagine that they can) on GW collectors alone. Not because GW collectors won’t pay premium prices for limited run stuff and other goodies. It is because GW collectors are not spontaneously generated. People rarely walk into a GW store and spend thousands of dollars their first time. They have to be grown from a little seedling planted by friends and such.

        So each of the gamers that they are losing is now planting their seeds in other companies gardens. Showing their friends those games, etc. Letting that happen because of correctable issues is not a good plan. Spending all that money on your own stores to find customers and keep them in brand then being like whatever about their concerns is just plain stupid.

  • Good post, Thor.

    There always will be, and always have been, people leaving 40k. Some go to other games while other focus on different hobbies. However, I don’t think we’ll see it completely abandoned any time soon. As you’ve said it is really about the experience as much as the game itself. 40k has decades of breadth and depth to the universe they’ve crafted and they’ve intentionally (and brilliantly) left plenty of gaps for people to fit in their own stories. Sure, the rules can be a bit wonky at times but it’s far better now than it was in the beginning. Sure it costs a bit to get started, and sure it takes a while to play a game. It’s not perfect by a long stretch but it’s fun on a variety of different levels.

    There is a lot more competition for GW now than in the past and that’s good for everyone. Games that are faster to play, cheaper to get into, and easier to recruit with are great for expanding the industry. They bring in players for whom 40k seems too daunting and/or expensive. Many of these players are likely to move into 40k after a while because of the wider universe available. And yes, many 40k players will pick up one or more of these other games for the tighter rules or quicker games.

    When it comes down to it though, these other companies are hardly going to be the death of 40k. They will force GW to stay sharp which means better products for us. We’re already seeing this now that GW has stopped publishing rules without models. Yes, we lost a couple of units to that decision but we’re seeing many of them come back for the Tyranids with great new models and rules updates that we can get for free (yes, FREE from GW!) We’re seeing faster rules updates, more frequent model releases, and better balance across the newer books.

    And how many are actually leaving 40k for good? I play a lot of different games. When I’m playing D&D is doesn’t mean I’ve left 40k. It just means that at that time I’m playing something different. It’s good to have options and it’s good to have competition in an industry.

    • Agreed. Competition is good for everyone. GW has already started stepping up and it’s great to see the behemoth finally moving forward.

      It would be great if those specialist games were still around, in terms of being supported, so players could move around to those instead of other systems. Not that GW covered all types of games but options are always good to have and GW has so few now.

      • I do miss Necromunda. It was a great way to get into the world of 40k on a smaller scale. What I really liked about it was the progression system. Every victory meant a chance for new skills and gear; every in-game casualty meant the risk of permanent injuries or dead gang members. Do any of the current systems even offer that?
        I would love to see a Kill-Team or Combat Patrol scale rule set for 40k. I think the reason they don’t do that is because it would be easy enough to put something together from the core rules. The starter boxes are almost a smaller scale of 40k already though. They come with special missions and enough info to play the two armies right out of the box. It would be just as easy for group of people to agree to 500 point games without tanks or flyers as a way to support new players as it would be for them to all agree to play any of the smaller scale rule sets.

        I would like to see something from GW that is squad based and includes a progression system. Essentially a Necomunda style game that incorporates more of the current armies. But I don’t care that much about them publishing a non-progressive skirmish game. That could just be a supplemental rules list to adapt the core rule set but I don’t see it as a standalone system. I really think it makes more sense for GW to let others play in that arena. If people have to buy new rules and new models to transition from 40k Skirmish to full 40k they could just as easily be transitioning from Warmahordes. Let other companies focus on a smaller scale system that still works as a gateway to 40k. GW is better off staying focused to make 40k as good a system as possible so people have more incentive to make the switch.

        I don’t want to see GW go down but I don’t think that’s highly likely either. I am glad there are other companies in the mix. External competition is much better for the consumer than internal options because it fuels each company to strive for better. It it’s an internal gateway game the drive is to make it good enough to be enticing but not so much that it cannibalizes from the core system. With two companies involved each has to deliver the best they can to gain and maintain market share. It also means more separate teams working to generate different approaches and innovation to the hobby so we get better options, not just more options.

        • I would love to see Kill Team done up in a fashion like Necromunda.

  • Gary marsh

    Great post Thor and lots of well reasoned points of view in the comments section.

    I can pretty much empathise with everybody’s point of view. I’ve enjoyed 40k since Rogue Trader and every edition has had its good and bad. For me 5th has been the best competitive edition and although it wasn’t perfect, the game flowed much better than later editions. It was also much more affordable if you wanted to play competitively (such as owning every Codex).

    6th and 7th have destroyed 40k as a competitive game for me. Owning every Codex is just too expensive these days. The balance issues and Allies Matrix (specifically Battle Brothers) have turned the game into stacking as many USR’s as possible into an army. Playing ‘Stackhammer’ doesn’t float my boat, but fortunately for me, I’ve made plenty of friends over the years who think the same way that I do.

    7th played just for the experience is probably the best edition that has been released. Whether you want to play large battles, small battles, aerial battles, boarding actions (Zone Mortalis is great), campaigns or whatever your feverish imagination can come up with, the rules are there to do it.

    I always thought I was too invested in 40k to play anything else, but the one area that seems to be lacking is the skirmish/RPG cross over. I was a big fan of Necromunda/Mordheim and always wanted a similarly detailed system for 40k skirmishes. Because of this I keep looking at other games such as Malifaux and I can understand why such games are drawing 40k players away from the game, just as I can appreciate why more competitive players have moved to different game systems.

    • I can’t argue about 7th. It’s a great rule-set from a thematic point of view but I can see it not being real competitive in terms of balance. There’s no real defined structure any longer to armies and that makes balance impossible.

      Obviously 40K can’t be everything, skirmish game and a squad based combat game, and that’s definitely where the specialist games came in. Maybe they’ll breath life back into these games but it’s been a while now with no rumors to say they’ll live once more. It’s too bad because those games tie perfectly into the universe and give players alternatives as well as smaller buy-in games. Those games were also gateway systems into the larger games of 40K or Fantasy and that’s the point I fail to understand the most in the choice to remove them. Why get rid of an easy entry system into the big money makers?

  • Ming

    I’ve been playing 40k now for maybe 20 years. I agree with the concept that 40k is something you experience and as long as I have time and an opponent I’ll play the game. The interesting observation is that over the past 20 years, Gamesworkshop has attracted competition, and all that competition has grown to compete for the attention and time of the gamers out there. Competition is a good thing! It makes for better models, game variety, modes of delivery, etc. 40k itself is now much bigger than just a game…like Star Wars it has become it’s own genre, focused on a huge story line, manifested as over 15 different table top games, over 15 digital games, movies, hundreds of novels, themed music, audio books, fan art, and even pirates who create fake products or third party accessories, and even fan-written rules, codexes, stories, and even it’s own Wikipedia library of knowledge. Even cosplay…

    I’m pretty much never going to start a new army for 40k, but I will keep up on new rules, books, novels, and other features of the hobby. I still spend a few $hundred each year. (I’d spend more but forge world is protected from impulse buying!!!)

    I love how 40k is actually what you want it to be. Regardless, it, like magic the gathering, is, by nature a collectible game that becomes an arms race in some circles. I understand that, and can appreciate the effect on some. I’ve been here long enough to see players come and go and return and go and on and on. If you stopped playing 40k for some reason, just remember, out there someplace is a gamer that will welcome you back with a fun and challenging game, and all your 40k models will still be useable!

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